Tips for the Flight Department 'Ring Master'

How to successfully manage the evolving role of a Flight Department manager...

Andre Fodor  |  13th January 2016
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Andre Fodor
Andre Fodor

With a focused approach on global excellence and creativity, Andre Fodor has managed flight operations...

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Running the show

Andre Fodor, VP Aviation, Johnsonville offers his tips on the ever-changing, multi-faceted role of the aviation manager, sharing his experiences of becoming a successful ring master within his flight department…

Many years ago, when I joined the flight operations management team of a major fractional ownership company, one of my mentors wisely told me that in aviation we must embrace change or be left behind. By its nature, aviation moves quickly through advances in technology, new economies and evolving cultural habits. Consequently, my role as a flight department manager has surely changed and expanded.

Today, it requires my participation in discussions on budgeting, forecasting, accounting, maintenance, insurance and depreciation-planning, while also demanding a healthy dose of creative thinking to help manage evolving expectations and to provide our principals with new and memorable experiences every flight.

As a matter of fact, with so many ancillary duties, I often have to take a few moments to remind myself that I’m still a pilot and have the responsibility to remain proficient and current above all else.

My leadership role requires passionate people-skills to manage the relationships that are the fabric of a successful aviation management experience and provide the crucial goodwill that helps resolve issues efficiently, allowing the flight department to be lean, productive and a great place to work. Allow me to elaborate…

Setting the Tone

As the manager, I set the tone. I’ve been clear from the beginning that I hold high standards and that anything less is an unacceptable compromise. I’m detail oriented and remind my team that mistakes and learning curves are expected and part of human nature. We learn from them, correct them and move forward.

I am clear to everyone that my goal through mentorship and empowerment is to give everybody an opportunity to develop and grow personally and professionally, and in essence - when the time comes – be in a position to replace me.

Ultimately, I will make final decisions and be the one to face the principal when there are tough issues to handle, but in all ways possible, I prefer a more horizontal form of leadership, in which all working within the department have the opportunity to coach, thus creating opportunity for bi-directional learning and task-oriented forms of leadership in which one will lead when he or she is the subject-matter expert.

Buck Stops Here

Having said that, it would be untrue for me to say that I am not a micro-manager; I’m convinced that successful aviation managers carry that trait in their DNA. We have no choice but to have a detail-oriented mind since the proverbial ‘buck’ stops with us every time!

As managers, we must make sure that details and expectations are met to the highest level. We must know when and how to stand our ground when handling issues with our principals, but with sensitivity that to relinquish control can be very difficult for highly successful business leaders.

As such, our decisions should become their decisions - and this requires years of honing delivery skills and learning how they think.

We all know how difficult it is to tell the boss ‘No’, and there is true art in knowing how to communicate that something is not possible while delivering exactly what your boss wants.

It requires great communication, quick thinking, a thorough knowledge of a situation, an alternative plan, and an intimate understanding of your principal’s expectations.

Honestly, I love being the ring leader within the flight department, setting the tone, using imagination and creativity, differentiating the way we do things, and testing whether new ideas ultimately yield tangible benefits to our bottom line and to our principal’s expectations.

My father once told me that being the boss means nothing if you don’t have the respect of your peers as a leader. Like all of us, I climbed the corporate aviation ladder learning from great mentors and bad bosses alike. I promised myself I’d learn how to listen, place ego aside for the sake of creative energy, and become respected as a mentor among my peers.

I am still eager to learn and I love a good story of how we got where we are and learn how other management styles have led to success stories. Writing this blog is yet another step in building my leadership skills and I would enjoy reading your comments and insights. How about sharing some in the section below?

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